Over the weekend, YouTuber PewDiePie called on his fans to stop perpetuating the “subscribe to PewDiePie” meme, one that grew from YouTube infighting to international infamy after it was invoked by the Christchurch shooter on his livestream earlier this year.
“”I think it’s time to end the ‘subscribe to PewDiePie’ movement, or meme,” he told his fans. The phrase rose in prominence as the YouTube account of Indian production company T-Series seemed primed to overtake PewDiePie as the most-subscribed channel. In response, fans sought to keep PewDiePie at the top of the list by doing things like holding up banners during the Super Bowl or hacking printers to display the message.
T-Series, despite the countereffort, is now comfortably in the top spot. The YouTuber, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, told fans that he expected the running gag to last “a couple of days or maybe a week,” and called the global response “incredibly humbling.”
But, he added, “When you have 90 million people riled up about something, you’re bound to get a few degenerates.” Prior to the Christchurch shooting, the message had also been written on a World War II memorial in New York. Following Christchurch, Kjellberg issued a short statement disavowing the shooter and his actions, but is just now expanding on his thoughts. “I didn’t want to make it about me,” he told viewers. “It’s clear to me now the ‘subscribe to PewDiePie’ movement should’ve ended then.”
What happens next remains to be seen. History has shown that memes co-opted by white supremacists and web Nazis can’t exactly be killed — just ask Matt Furie, creator of Pepe the Frog. Celebrities have similarly become unwilling fan objects of that crowd as well — as Taylor Swift well knows. At the very least, Kjellberg’s rejection of the meme preemptively shuts down anyone who would justify its continued use by claiming “it’s about positivity” or “it’s in good fun.” PewDiePie adherents can’t believably claim to act in the name of a leader who has explicitly rejected their call to action. “Subscribe to PewDiePie” might’ve been a simple joke at one point, but even as Kjellberg admits, it’s not anymore. Sometimes old memes must die so new memes can live.